2004 marked the seventh annual Petit le Mans at Road Atlanta. This penultimate event in the 2004 American le Mans Series (ALMS) season always provides exciting racing, and 2004 was no exception. The event took place the weekend of the 22nd through the 25th of September. On the 22nd and 23rd Righty worked corners for the practice days, while we both spectated on the 24th and 25th.We didn't get as many photos as some years but did get some good ones. Click any thumbnail image below to see a larger version of the photo. This page and all images (except the Road Atlanta track map) and the event ticket are Copyright © 2004, Douglas N. Franklin. All rights reserved.
So far, The Nuts have attended all of the Petit le Mans events so far, and we hope to continue the streak in the future. As we have the past couple of years, we sprang for the Mulsanne Chalet premium tickets. In addition to entrance all four days and paddock access, the Mulsanne Chalet package also includes paddock parking on Saturday and hospitality service on Friday and Saturday. They served the same food as in the past, but the “goodie bag” was a bit better than the last couple of years. Having the closed circuit television and open bar was, as usual, great.
This event improves every year, and 2004 raised the bar again, surpassing all previous Petit le Mans events. Luckily, the public seems to agree with us. The turnout seemed at least as good as last year, maybe better, based on the parking inside and outside the track property. The weather was wonderful, with clear skies, lots of sun, and cool temperatures with lows in the sixties and highs in the eighties. September is definitely a better bet than October for this race, weather-wise.
As with the past couple of years, the staring grid was open to all spectators for a “Grid Walk” right before the race. This made the event a lot more interesting for many people, as exemplified by the huge crowd that swarmed onto the grid when the gates were opened. Adding in the fact that all tickets provided paddock access and the autograph session “Pit Walk” on Friday, the crowd had quite a bit of access to the drivers and teams. The sanctioning bodies and teams also provided “Tech Talk” sessions explaining the technology of ALMS racing and providing question and answer sessions for the spectators.
Strangely, there didn't seem to be any more efforts at crowd and traffic control on the track property, the infield traffic actually seemed to be a little less trouble this year than the last couple of years. Road Atlanta did widen the “bottleneck” road between the main part of the infield and the section bounded by turns 5, 6, 7, and 8 (the “backfield”, in the upper right of the track map above), which made a big difference. They still need to do some work on the rest of the infield roads, though. Getting around and across the “Suzuki Bridge” (top of the hill at Turn 11) and the “Vendor Village” were troublesome at best and nearly impossible at worst.
Test DaysWe both worked the “test days” the weekend before the event. James Weaver of the Dyson Race Team gave an on-track clinic in consistency and speed, especially Sunday afternoon. The Nuts worked Road Atlanta‘s Turn 3 that day. Mr. Weaver seemed to get one bad set of tires or something, and had trouble on three particular laps, but otherwise set a driving standard no one else could live up to that day.
Unfortunately for the Acemco team, their Saleen S7 lost a wheel coming down the hill to Turn 12, and heavily impacted the wall just before the starter's stand. They got something ready for the race, but we think it might have been the “T” car, due to the amount of damage done to the #63 car. Effectively, the entire left front corner of the car was “wiped off” by the front stretch wall.
The #24 Alex Job Racing McKenna Porsche 911 GT3 RS also had some trouble during the test days. Hitting the wall after problems negotiating Turn 7, the #24 suffered moderate body damage and destroyed one radiator. They fixed the car during the week, though, and were on the grid Saturday morning for the Petit.
The GagWe again ended up in the Sunday supplement for the local Gwinnett newspaper the week before the race, a photo from last year's starting grid with us in both suits and hats. Earl Fannin, the head of PR for Road Atlanta was nice enough to give us a couple of these inserts for our scrapbooks.
Since neither the Panoz team nor any customers ran the Panoz LMP prototype cars this year, we had to do something different for our gag. So, we decided to make hats for the two cars that “backflipped” at earlier Petit le Mans events (a Porsche GT-1 in 1998 driven by Yannick Dalmas and a BMW LMR in 2000 driven by Bill Auberlen).
We were going to make the model cars on our hats “backflip” using electric remote control hardware, but we ran out of time to get that working so we stuck with a static display that made them look like they were lifting off. This year's hats got a decent reaction, but not nearly the level of the last two years. I doubt we'll be in the Sunday Supplement next year. Below you'll find a few pictures of us and the hats.
The ProgramIn addition to the marquee American le Mans Series (ALMS) Petit le Mans event, the program included the following support races:
The Star Mazda Race
We spent much of the Star Mazda race Friday afternoon observing from the outside of Turn 10A. It was a great race, with lots of close competition, especially at this critical turn. For one thing, Turn 10A provides great opportunities for overtaking in the braking zone. For another, drivers must negotiate Turn 10B well because it sets the tone for the run all the way to Turn 1. To cap it all off, the Turn 10A/10B complex consists of two almost-ninety-degree corners (left then right) with a very short chute between them. Combined, these points make for a lot of action at 10A/10B.
The Petit le Mans
It was sad to go to a Petit le Mans and not see a Panoz prototype on track. We were huge fans of the old “batmobile” and the newer LMP01 chassis. The LMP07 never really got off the ground, but was a very nice looking car. Hopefully the folks at Panoz and LMR Racing have better luck in the GTS class with the Esperante GT-LM. The Nuts surely wish them luck and we'll be rooting for them.
Course Workers and Friends
We visited with some of our friends on the corners during the event, particularly at turns three, seven, and eight.
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